A chance encounter between John Furlong and B.C. Premier Christy Clark at the memorial service for Betty Fox - and an offhand remark from the former VANOC CEO - led to Mr. Furlong's co-chair role in the independent review into the Stanley Cup riots.
By the time Mr. Furlong and Ms. Clark ran into each other at the Saturday service in Port Coquitlam, B.C., Mr. Furlong's eventual partner - a former senior civil servant in Nova Scotia - had already been approached for the review, which is a joint effort of the City of Vancouver, B.C. government and Vancouver Police Department.
Mr. Furlong had watched the riots on TV, sticking with the coverage until the last live report was aired. At the memorial service, he told Ms. Clark that if "there's any way I or people close to me could help in any way, I'd be happy to try, and I left it at that," he said during a conference call.
The Premier and Solicitor-General Shirley Bond followed up, and Mr. Furlong received an official offer on Monday to co-chair the review with Doug Keefe, the former Nova Scotia deputy attorney-general.
However, sources said the City of Vancouver was unaware of those weekend discussions. Officials first heard of Mr. Furlong's appointment on Monday, although they had been involved in talks about Mr. Keefe, the sources said, adding that no B.C. figure of sufficient stature was available on short notice for the project, which is working to an Aug. 31 deadline.
Now the two men must quickly assess security planning before the June 15 riots, and the response afterwards to the worst such disturbances in Vancouver since the similar riots in 1994, when the Canucks lost Game 7 to the New York Rangers.
Mr. Keefe, who spent 30 years with the Nova Scotia public service and has participated in reviews of the 1992 Westray mine disaster and 1998 Swissair Flight 111 crash, said he brings an outsider's "fresh pair of eyes" to the project. Mr. Furlong said his expertise includes his leadership role in the Vancouver Olympics, one of the most complicated events ever held in Canada. Both men said they will tap whatever experts are required to properly complete their assignment.
Mr. Keefe said one priority is to understand the lessons from the 1994 riot, and see whether those lessons were integrated into the operations of Vancouver police. "I think that's going to be very important and very interesting," he said.
Mr. Furlong said he will be fair to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, grappling with arguably the worst crisis of his first term as mayor, despite pointedly criticizing the mayor in his memoir of the 2010 Winter Games.
In Patriot Hearts, co-written with Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason, Mr. Furlong chastises Mr. Robertson for trying to capitalize on problems with the Olympic Village and inserting himself into a torch-lighting ceremony in Greece.
But Mr. Furlong said he never criticized Mr. Robertson on matters germane to security issues that are the focus of the review and that he has, overall, had a "very good relationship" with the mayor.
"The comments in my book have absolutely nothing to do with any of this," he said.
Mr. Robertson, who is facing a first bid for re-election in November, was not taking offence Tuesday. He described the pair as "two excellent co-chairs … highly excellent individuals."
Both men agreed Tuesday on a key point: that they might not release the number of police deployed that night.
Mr. Furlong described the issue as a "line item" in all of the issues around police performance, and that it was too early to make any declarations about how the report would be assembled, and whether the number would be included.
Mr. Keefe agreed. "It would be wrong to focus strictly on the number and think if it's a number of X then if we had X plus one, that would have made all the difference. I am sure we will be given the number, but there are very good reasons why the police do not give out operational details," he said.
Mr. Keefe said part of the role of the review is to offer suggestions on how to maintain the city's admirable tradition of large public gatherings. "You folks do know how to do this right," he said. "It's a question of getting back on the rails."
With a report from Rod Mickleburgh